Friday, December 16, 2011

Still Believing in Santa

"OK, I want the truth." Our 9 year old eyed my husband and me with a most serious expression. We were trapped at the dinner table with our accuser and his 14 year old brother as a witness. I looked to my husband's guilt ridden face. He wasn't about to say a word. The 14 year old was grinning his 'I told you so' grin. So, I was tossed to the wolf cub.

"Well it's true," I said. "Your father and I put the presents under the tree.... but we are doing it in the spirit of Santa Claus."

"?" The 9 year old stared at me.

"You should have seen us trying to stuff the piano down the chimney last year," I continued.

"Nooo!" he wailed as he writhed in his chair with a mixture of frustration and delight with our playfulness. His brother and father stifled laughs. "How did you get the piano into the house and hidden behind the tree last year?!"


"Well," said his father, "a magician never gives away his tricks," he grinned.

"Did you and dad carry it into the house?" the boy asked.

"Hah!" I laughed. "Your father and I couldn't carry a piano into the house on Christmas Eve."

"So what did you do?" The nine year old insisted.

"We hired some elves!" I smiled.

"Arrrrrgh!" he yelled and laughed at the same time.

After the laughter died down, we told our little boy that we are all part of the spirit of Christmas and now that he knows where the presents come from, he would also be responsible for helping bring the spirit of Christmas to others.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Who's Responsible for the Poor?

Andy Cook 2002
Thank you for the public image Andy

I had one of those heart stopping double takes when I was driving up an on-ramp in Memphis, Tennessee last weekend. I saw and elderly man who looked as if he was barely able to stand at the side of the road. A metal cane was clutched in his right hand and a suitcase was on the ground to his left. His brow was furrowed with deep groves in the shape of a lifetime of worry. His eyes looked directly into mine as if to say, 'How could you possibly drive by without stopping?'

I have seen some scruffy old hitch-hikers before, but this scene was all wrong. He was much too old and frail to be standing alone. His thumb was not out, no sign, and I had the feeling that he didn't know why he was standing there. I couldn't help wondering if someone had just dropped him off there only moments before. I was about to be late to my bead show and if I am late the promoters will fine me at least $100. There really wasn't much choice though, I had to pull over. Just as I put on my turn signal I saw a police car pull up to him in my rear view mirror. Thank God!

I really don't know whether it was bad luck or bad life choices that brought him to that place at that point in his life. Recently, I have heard several people argue that if we don't allow people to suffer the consequences of their bad life choices then society will have to suffer the eternal burden of their welfare. I just can't imagine myself driving by that old man and thinking to myself, 'tough luck, you must have screwed up.' For me, each of those welfare recipients has a face and a story and unless I know the story how could I say you are not worthy of help?

All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness. The important thing is they should be part of our daily lives.
-Dalai Lama

May you all have a bountiful Thanksgiving!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Knowing What You Want

I found this print in a used book store in Kobe, Japan. It's one of my favorites so I thought that I would share it with you.

Remember your joys! Your life's purpose is in what you love.

At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want. -Lao Tzu (venerable teacher)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Internet Scams and Running an On Line Business

Looks like Bad Breath in the Cyber World Doesn't it?

Sometimes I think I get more deceitful email than anyone else on earth. I would guess that I get at least 4 of these a day:
Dear Partner, I am Mrs Elena, financial controller to Mikhail Khodorkovsky the richest man in Russia and owner of the following companies:Chairman CEO:YUKOS OIL (Russian Most Largest Oil Company)Chairman CEO:Menatep SBP Bank (A well reputable financial institution with its branches all over the world)  Please get back to me to give you details of the transaction.if you are interested please provide below information :  Your full names : Address : Your country : Age : Phone and fax number : Occupation : Do you own a company: 
Part of the problem is that I can't block every unknown email because they may be potential customers for my business and some are my suppliers. For the most part they are easy to identify and trash.

These are some of the more common scams I've seen:
1. Are you deceased?
2. Lottery
3. Death of an unknown relative
4. Wanting to leave everything to me for my charity
5. IRS refund
6. Credit Card notice of fraud activity
7. Banking error
8. eBay concern
9. Pay Pal concern
10. Mysterious Fed Ex Package in my name (by the way what's my name?)
11. Powerful Rich man dies and I have his money, help me move it.

Here are some key words that get my Spider Senses tingling:
1. Nigeria, Russia
2. Let me introduce myself
3. This may come as a surprise to you
4. Urgent
5. Threatening legal action
6. Looking for a partner in your country
7. You have won!

(I'm sure your can come up with many more.)

The primary methods in these types of scams are greed and fear. If you always remember that you don't get something for nothing you are half way there. For almost everything else I simply ignore the email and contact the company directly. I did once have an issue with Pay Pal but it said so on my account when I looked it up. If in doubt I recommend contacting the authorities.

What brings this to mind today is a more tricky and insidious scam. I'm not even sure how it was done. I have been placing orders with the same man in Nepal for 12 years when suddenly he asked for help. This is completely out of character for him. I have helped people in the past by buying in larger quantities or fronting them money so that they can purchase materials. I have even given outright gifts. This time my friend was asking me to send money to him in China by means of Western Union to a name I have never heard before. (If you send cash, you can't get it back. Don't do it!) Oddly enough, he was responding to my requests for inventory and delivery dates and everything else seemed normal. What I didn't notice at first was that his return email address was incorrect by an extra 's.' Very tricky indeed. I did not send money, instead I sent a message to him through a mutual friend to find out if he knew that his email account had been hijacked.

Be careful out there!

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Library is Finished!

Yes, it is actually the year 2068 in Nepal. The official calendar of Nepal is the Vikram Samvat. It is 56.7 years ahead of the Gregorian Calendar.

Thank you again for all of your help. This project was made possible by the many donations from family, friends, blog friends and customers. The community is grateful to everyone who made contributions and regrets that the artist could not put all of their names on the sign.

Please also note that Room to Read will be sending a package of as many as 250 books and the Joy Foundation has offered to contribute books through other sources. And, I was able to send an additional $250 for books and science equipment.

The community plans to hire a librarian and after the books have arrived and the librarian is ready they will have an opening ceremony. I really wish I could go, but I don't think there is enough spare cash for that right now.

Thanks again everyone!

The community is actively looking for English speakers that might want to spend time (even a few weeks or months) in the village teaching. If you know of anyone who is interested in this type of adventure, contact me, Jennifer Gerard at It is not a paid position.

I just heard that there was an earthquake in northern India that affected Sikkim and Nepal. Nepal is in no way prepared for a serious earthquake. Most of the homes would just rattle apart. So far they have reported 50 dead but there are many remote villages that can not be reached because of landslides. An early estimate is that 100,000 homes have been damaged. These pictures of the library must have been sent to me just hours before the earthquake. I'll let you know if I hear from anyone about the impact on the village where the library is.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Marble Machine, my 911 account for my boys

Our neighbor, Sara, called and said, "Turn on the TV! Something just happened in New York." When I turned it on the first plane had already crashed. Watching, I was in a kind of horrified stupor trying to sort out what had just happened. I kept thinking about the tourists that must have been in the building because I can remember riding the elevator up near the top of one of the towers to see the view with my family when I was a kid.

Wayne, my husband, came into the room and Josh, my son, was there. The news reporters were talking rapidly. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the second plane hit! It was absolutely unreal. Josh said, "Wow!" not understanding what he had seen because he was only 3. Later he asked his dad if anyone might have been hurt in the plane. Wayne answered vaguely, "That was possible."

For most of my lifetime we in the USA had lived in a time of peace so, I was having trouble interpreting what was happening. Clearly we were under attack, but by whom? Why? The attack was not in the middle of a war or a conflict or even a remarkable spat. It was more like a sucker punch out of nowhere.

Wayne and I were about to whisk Josh out the door to take him to daycare. So, we jumped in the car. When we arrived, no one at the daycare had heard the news yet. I didn't want to voice out loud the horrible thing that had just happened. I just said, "You need to turn on the news, right now."

Wayne and I hurried home again to watch more news. The Pentagon had been hit while we were out. That brought the tragedy very close to our home because we lived within the beltway. We didn't know until later, but some of the kids at our local school lost a parent that day. Then flight 93 went down in PA. Then the towers actually collapsed! I really hadn't expect them to fall. I don't think that many people expected that. All that day I was kind of numbly glued to the TV. After picking Josh up from daycare at lunch time, I dutifully cared for him, distracting him with toys then returned to the TV for more news.

That night was eerily quiet. We stayed home and no one on our street went anywhere. The only sound we heard was a regular circling of military Jets around the perimeter of the capitol because all of the other flights in the country had been cancelled. Everyone was afraid because we didn't know much about who attacked us or if they had plans for more attacks. Each time the jets passed over head, I felt a little bit of comfort.

The next day, I was still in shock and constantly watching for every bit of news. Most of America was watching, but there was this terrible feeling of uselessness. Most people couldn't really help, although we all wanted to do something. A lot of people prayed and lit candles.

By evening, I was beginning to realize that my obsession with the news was becoming unhealthy for me and for Josh. I wasn't playing with him anymore. I turned off the TV and started to create something. I had wood and glue and bells. Over the next couple of days the creation took form and Wayne helped me. Two tall towers of wood connected by ramps emerged. The 'escape' ramps carried marbles to the bells that tolled for those who had passed. An American flag was at the top and a cup was at the bottom to catch the fallen. And there were three churning 'wheels of life' spinning in primary colors as each marble passed through. The ramps were made so that the marbles would precariously make a drop from one ramp to the next. Sometimes they wouldn't make it and they would fall off the end of the ramp and crash on the floor.

When it was finished Josh often played with that marble machine and so did his brother, Sean, a few years later, but until now I never told them why I made it. It was my memorial.

I wish that I could give my boys that time before we talked about terrorists every day. It is sad for me to know that they cannot remember a time when our country was at peace.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

-John Donne

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Postcard to Mom and Dad 1992

Photo taken by self timer in Kathmandu, Nepal
the first visit 1992

Do you recognize your daughter? It's November 16th, in Bangkok. Cheryl's out roaming the street trying to find some way to surprise me for my 28th birthday. I'll be calling you tonight, but thought you'd appreciate the photo. Don't worry, the clothes are merely an expression of my dramatic self not a new religious persona. Did I tell you we flew into Nepal, flying straight past Everest and had a magnificent view. We hiked in the Himilayas for 6 days sometimes 8 to 10 hours a day, 20 lbs on our backs. We're in Thailand now and are skipping India in favor of the Philippines (less hassles). I've written to Chito and will call Jerry B., my doctor friend from Japan, so that we should have guides for the tail end of our trip. Bangkok is hot and humid and as polluted as ever but we will be heading for the least rainy beaches as soon as possible. Thinking about starting an import business but will wait to see how practical it is. (Mail sent via post-restante.) I'll be home soon.

Just found this post card and thought I would share.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Help from Room to Read!

Great News Today!

Room to Read has agreed to help our library by taking donations for our Library Project at the Shree Nava Vijayee Mahendra Secondary School, Rasuwa, Nepal.

Thank you Room to Read!

This means that contributions for books made in the US can be tax deductible.

Here is what you can do.
  • Funds should be mailed to their headquarters office in San Francisco to the address below. Checks should be made out to Room to Read and should also have "Atlanta chapter and Nepal-LLP" written on the note line.
Room to Read
Attn: Rachael Johnson
111 Sutter St., 16th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104
**NOTE: To ensure that our specific project receives the appropriate funds, online donors should select "Nepal - Local Language Publishing" in the "Designation" drop down box and also to be sure to select "Atlanta" in the "I heard about Room to Read through a chapter" drop down box.
  • They are able to keep their costs extremely low: approximately US $1 per book. Once all the funds have been received, they will work directly with their local team in Nepal to have a box shipped from their supplies. (Our goal is 250 books from Room to Read.) Any donations in excess of our goal will go to help other worthy library projects in Nepal.
Patience and fortitude conquer all things. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Library Under Construction, Rasuwa District, Nepal

Sorry, I can't really tell you what's going on or in what order this is happening.  But I can see...
The community working together!

 JR, thank you for the photos.  It looks like a fantastic start.  We will all say prayers for good weather.

I had better get busy and collect more money for the books. 
I wish that I could be there!

Thanks again for all of the contributions and support.  It's kind of amazing what we can accomplish together.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Update on the Library Project

I was so surprised a few weeks ago to receive a phone call from Nepal.  The English teacher at Shree Nava Vijayee Mahendra Secondary School called to personally thank me.  The Joy Foundation had informed them that enough funds were sent to cover the cost of building the library.  The school administrators would be arranging a trip to Kathmandu to discuss the details.

Yesterday, I received this note from the Joy Foundation:

7th June, 2011
Ms. Jennifer Gerard
A World of Good, Inc.
OH 44120, USA

Subject: School Library Project.

Dear Madam,

We are pleased to inform you that, today we have signed an agreement with Shree Nava Vijayee Mahendra Secondary School, Laharepauwa – 6, Rasuwa to make a library room in the school. The school has submitted a detailed cost report of Rs. 1,50,500.00 to complete the library room including cost of furniture for library room. However, we have given them 70 % of the above cost as 1st installment of Rs. 1,05,000.00 to start the construction work and remaining 30 % will be paid to them once they spent and submit all the documents to JOY. Also be informed that one of the JOY staff will visit the school in few days time to inspect the work progress in school, so that school may feel responsible and complete the work on time. I hope this information will be  fruitful for you.

With best regards,
Pradip Man Shrestha
Admin. & Finance Executive

I just want to thank you all again for supporting the project and cheering me on. As soon as I have pictures I will certainly share them with you.

Any further contributions made by friends and family to this project will go toward the purchase of books.  Contributions can be made to:
The Joy Foundation
Plymouth UCC (for church members, please note for use on the library project, Nepal)
We are still hoping that Room to Read will be able to provide the books.  But I don't know much about the details yet. 


Friday, May 27, 2011

The Jewel in the Journey

Is it a flower or a weed?
A wandering soul is either profoundly blessed or profoundly cursed.  Most often, people tell me that it must be nice to live a life of constant travel.  It is....It isn't.  Sometimes I just want to be home.  And yet, I miss the road when I sit still too long.  The jewel that I seek is not in a specific place, it is in the journey itself.  It is every story that I encounter.

Below is my summer schedule.  In between the shows I will drive home to Shaker Heights, OH and I will be able to take my family with me on some of these adventures.

June 4,5 - Raleigh, NC
Intergalactic Bead Show

June 11,12 - Brookline, MA
Trunk Show the Pear Tree

June 18,19  - Cleveland, OH
Intergalactic Bead Show

 July 2,3 - Takoma Park, MD
Happy 4th of July!

July 9,10  - Chicago, IL
Intergalactic Bead Show

July 22, 23, 24  - Virginia Beach, VA
Treasures of the Earth Gem & Jewelry Show

August 6,7  - Cincinnati, OH
Intergalactic Bead Show

August 13,14  - Ashville, NC
Intergalactic Bead Show

August 20, 21  - Atlanta, GA
Intergalactic Bead Show
August 26, 27, 28  - Columbus Ohio
GemStreet USA

*Our latest shipment has arrived.  Look for the new items at and

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Death of Silver!

From the left: Newar earrings, Angel Bell Pendant,Chakra earring, Chakra pendant, Chubshi (Sterling silver prayer counters), Tibetan sterling silver earring, Tibetan sterling silver ring, Tibetan sterling silver Dragon Earrings
2001 was a terrible year for so many reasons.  10 members of Nepal's royal family were murdered by the prince who then killed himself.  Not good for my business because I buy most of my product in Nepal, and really not good for Nepal.  But even worse that year was what Osama Bin Laden did on September 11, 2001.  This horror was sudden, but the damage is still resounding slowly and painfully.  What he did set financial markets around the world reeling and baited the US into two wars.

I started my business in 1993.  Back then, silver was roughly $4-$6 a troy oz.  I could buy silver rings for $3 or $4 dollars  and sell them to stores in the US who would retail them for $10 or $12.  The price of silver stayed basically the same for the first 8 years of my business.  There was a sudden jump in the price of silver in 2001, and by the end of 2002 it had risen about 25%.  Our $10 ring was now $12.50.  When the Iraq war began in 2003 silver started to rise again and by February 2004 this same ring was now $20.  Though the price fluctuated some, the trend was still going up.  Speculators making money off of the fear of others pushed prices even higher.  Many in the silver industry also believe that China has been buying up all kinds of raw materials including silver because, China is growing and silver has industrial uses.   China is also worried about owning so much of our debt, and they know we are still at war and in financial distress.

Silver prices fell some in 2008 when the whole financial market crashed, but silver and gold are traditional safe havens in a down market and they soon picked up again.  This time the rise has been with reckless abandon.  Prices doubled!  Then since Autumn 2010 to April 30th, 2011, prices doubled again.  Many of my colleagues and I have switched to making more brass and copper products.  Last Friday silver was at $48 a troy oz.  Our little $10 ring was now a whopping $120!

In my latest shipment, I ordered little bell pendants like the one that you see above dotting the 'i' in silver.  The bells have always been good sellers especially the little cat bell with a mouse as the clapper.  They sold very well at $18, they sold well at $32, but will they sell at their current price, $70?

According to Bloomberg today, silver futures sank nearly 12% on the announcement of Bin Laden's death.  Does this mean the death of the over inflated silver market?  I do predict that the silver bubble is about to deflate somewhat, but we are still at war and have jobs to create, so I would expect that your jewelry collection will hold a great deal of value for many years to come.  The days of the $10 sterling silver ring are far behind us.

*Some of my customers ask why other sellers have very cheap Tibetan Silver.  The quick and simple answer is... it is not silver!  Beware of anything labeled 'Tibetan Silver.'  Like 'German Silver,' it has become synonymous with 0% silver content.  It is usually a mixture of copper, zinc, nickel and tin.  On our site you can find 'White Metal' or 'Nickel' jewelry and they are priced accordingly.  Tibetans can and do make beautiful jewelry out of sterling silver as well, so I find the recent moniker to be especially tragic for excellent Tibetan craftspeople. *Note that much of the misrepresented silver is being distributed from China or India. Truth breeds better Karma.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mastering the Magic Eight Ball

Life is magical! Scientists whittle it down to the most minute particles, and yet what animates the inert is still a mystery. It doesn't really matter from which perspective you choose to describe it, religious, philosophical, artistic, scientific. It is an incredible undeniable miracle!

There is a shop in Massachusetts where the staff makes most of its decisions by divination. They use a pendulum to choose which jewelry to buy and to find the occasional misplaced car keys. Before the pendulum they used a Magic 8 Ball to help with similar problems, until I admired it. I am now the proud owner of a vintage Magic 8 Ball which my children and I have used often to predict our fortune and fame. When I decided to build a library in Nepal I asked the Magic 8 Ball if I would be successful. I had to ask the ball 4 times before it gave me the correct answer.

In my endless hunt for the clues that give meaning to my existence, I occasionally happen upon a pattern that appears to point the way. I love these moments because a part of me has always been a magical thinker. But there is another part of me that seems to override the superstition, my firm belief in effort. Not every action succeeds, but with persistence, belief in oneself and the help of friends great things can be accomplished.

We have reached the first goal of the Library Project! In a few weeks, I will be able to send enough money to The Joy Foundation to build the Library. The next step will be to fill it with books and a couple of computers.

To those of you who have been following along and making contributions, Thank You!
And forgive me for being out of touch for a while. I have 32 shows this year and I have been making presentations to raise money for the Library and taking care of my family in between.

May you have success in all your good endeavors!

Thursday, March 17, 2011


There are beautiful flowers blooming in Hiroshima.  Nagasaki is a healthy thriving community.  Tokyo stands proud and tall! 

Many of you know that I lived in Japan for three years and have many friends between Hyogo and Osaka.  You might not know that less than two years after I left Japan, in 1995, there was the Great Hanshin earthquake that killed 6,434 people in the very region where I lived and worked.  Many people that I knew lost loved ones and and property.  In 1997 when I returned to visit, I was amazed to see how vibrant and restored the city was.  Yes, there were still many people living in temporary houses, but the city was functioning well and everyone was again looking optimistically to the future.

To my loved ones in Japan, have courage and confidence.  The world sends its love and prayers and great admiration to you for all that you are able to accomplish in the most difficult times.

Man never made any material as resilient as the human spirit. - Bern Williams

Friday, March 4, 2011

Monsoons in Nepal

Summer in Nepal is a hot, wet blanket of humidity.  It rains almost everyday with terrifying thunderstorms in the evening that reverberate loud and close throughout the bowl shaped valley of Kathmandu.  One afternoon I found myself standing knee deep in filthy water in the center of Thamel, Kathmandu.  There was no way of knowing what manner of detritus might be swirling around my invisible flip-flop clad feet.  For the first time, I understood with clarity why all of the buildings are set up from the road on cement slabs.  I did not go to Nepal again in the summer months.  On that trip I learned that paper products and fabrics do not fare well during monsoon season.  Even some of my jewelry arrived damp inside its packages.

A well prepared tourist would carry rain gear, mosquito repellent, something for the inevitable diarrhea, and salt or chewing tobacco to smear on their bodies as a defense against leeches during the monsoon.  I have never bothered to try to hike in Nepal's Monsoon season, but I have heard some harrowing tales.  Up in the Rasuwa district, my friends told me that the path to their village would be slippery with leeches.  I wasn't sure if those were separate thoughts.  Slippery paths I have seen.  A sudden downpour can turn a former path into a river.  However, I have heard tales of  hundreds of leeches popping up from the ground, blindly waving back and forth as they sniff the air for their next bloody meal, or dropping from the leaves of the trees onto passersby. It is not too hard to imagine slipping on the leeches themselves.

Landslides and floods are frequent during the monsoons in the mountainous areas of Nepal.  Last year I traveled a road that is closed for months every year because of the regular monsoon landslides.   This problem grows worse year after year as deforestation leads to more erosion.  Landslides can be deadly, killing several people every year, but even more deaths during the monsoon season occur because of the poor water quality and lack of sanitation.

The water is absolutely necessary to bring out the lush greenery and the fantastic orchids.  It is what clears the winter dust from the air and makes the rice grow.  But it is also an extremely difficult time to accomplish anything in Nepal.  Before my friends in Nepal can begin to build their library I have to raise another $1,200.  The hope is that I will be able to send them this amount by the end of April so that they have a chance of finishing the building before the rains come.  I will continue to raise money for the books and the laptops after that.  This Sunday, I have another opportunity to raise money for the project at Plymouth UCC.  Wish me luck!

This spigot which is completely dry in the Winter will be gushing water during the summer months.  The creature with what appears to be an elephant's trunk is actually an opened mouthed crocodile.
*To all of you who have donated so generously, you will be happy to know that the first $900 has already arrived at the Joy Foundation in Nepal.  THANK YOU!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Other People's Bones

Bone Jewelry from Nepal, these pieces are made of water buffalo bone which is a domesticated animal.  The Mala, necklace, on the right is a modern tantric mala.  I have seen very old tantric malas in Nepal which I have been told were made out of 108 different human skulls and decorated with coral, turquoise and silver, then soaked in yak butter.  The mala above is decorated with coral and turquoise colored glass and copper or white metal rings.

Recently, a friend showed me some images of rare Tibetan relic containers.  He wanted my opinion of what they might be used for.  All that he could tell me was that they were very old and that the person whom he had purchased them from thought that there was part of a human femur inside one of them.  Looking at the base of them, I could tell that they had been sealed and likely consecrated.  Coral, amber and turquoise adorned these pieces and they were certainly real and very valuable.  What was inside the vessels is still a mystery, however, because there is really no way for me to know without prying them open.  As beautiful as these vessels were,  they did not appear to be very old, which begs the question, 'Where did they come from and why were they made?'

On one of my early visits to Nepal about 20 years ago, someone showed me a hidden cabinet behind a silk curtain at the back of a small shop.  Inside the cabinet was the highly decorated skull of a human being.  The shop keeper wanted about $500 for it.  I was fascinated, but not at all interested in owning someone's skull.

In Kathmandu, it is not unusual for me to see highly decorated skulls of goats, and I have also seen monkey skulls and bird skulls.  For a few years I used to bring back the goat skulls, because they were so interesting, though a bit creepy, covered in pressed-metal skull appliques and with marbles for eyes.  They always attracted to my table a lot of people who were simultaneously compelled and repulsed.  These goat skulls consistently sold for a few hundred dollars.  Sometimes, if all of the flesh had not been completely removed, they would have a pungent rotting carcass odor to them.  One day, a woman who was clearly apprehensive about the goat skull on my table asked me a question about it, and at the very moment she pointed her finger at the beast, a potato bug crawled out of its nose.  She screamed in the middle of a jewelry show and I laughed, while weakly attempting an apology.  Not long after that, I stopped bringing them back.  They really were a bit grotesque and a pain to explain to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.

Over the years several people have asked me if I could get a Kapala, a decorated human skull used as a begging bowl, or a Kangling, a femur bone turned into a horn. You can read more about these items at Kapalaculture.  (You can also find several for sale on the internet if you Google these words, so you do not need to ask me for them.)  I have never brought any human remains home with me for several reasons.  The main reason for me is a moral position, but beyond that, it is simply illegal.  It is not legal to sell human remains in Nepal or India and it is not legal to transport them into the U.S. without considerable paperwork.  It is also not legal to transport them across certain state lines if you already own them.

I have asked a lot of questions about the process, because I have known more than a couple of people who have brought these relics home for profit or who have acquired them for their collections, or who would like to sell one to me.  When I asked U.S. customs about transporting human remains, they say that the FBI will want to know whose bones they are and see the paperwork.  When I called the Embassy of Nepal they told me very plainly, human bones are not sold in Nepal, it is not legal, and they cannot be transported.  Still, several Kapalas  and Kanglings make it into the U.S. every year and the customs officials who do find them on occasion simply have no idea what they are looking at.

Why wouldn't it be legal?  It is really very simple.  There is such a demand for human remains in the West that the price of a decorated skull can be anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000.  Considering that the poorest people in Nepal and Northern India make less than $500 a year, it is easy to imagine that someone could be worth more dead than alive.  It is also important to note the history of these items.  Many of the older relics belonged to families and monasteries in Tibet.  When the price of these artifacts became so inflated, there was an enormous incentive to steal from the few remaining monasteries to satisfy the demands of Western collectors.

On my most recent trips to Nepal I have seen skull cap bowls out in the open for sale to the tourists.  What the tourists may not know is that these bowls are actually made of a kind of plastic.  It looks very similar to a skull, and then it is decorated with white metal, not silver.  They might cost between $15 and $20.  That is another reason why 'skulls' are able to leave Nepal with the tourists and enter the U.S.  However, the real skulls are still available as well, even though the export of human remains was banned in India in 1987.  What the tourist usually hears is a story about the Kapala being a real monk's skull from Tibet and that it is way more than 60 years old, but what they may actually be buying is a human skull made into a bowl last year.

According to an article in The National written by Jalees Andrabi in 2009:

"20,000-25,000 human skeletons are smuggled out of India every year through Nepal, China and Bangladesh. The skeletons reach markets in the US, Japan, Europe and the Middle East, mostly for medical institutions. The price for a complete skeleton in these markets ranges from $700 to $1500 depending on the quality and size. In India a full skeleton costs around $ 350 in the open market. Young Brothers, a Kolkata based bone dealer, sells a human skeleton for $300. While the complete skeletons mostly find their way to medical laboratories mostly in the West, the assorted bones and skulls are used for religious rituals mostly in Hindu and Buddhist dominated areas. As part of their tantric rituals, many tantriks drink wine in human skulls in places such as Nepal and Assam in India."

You can read the full gruesome article about how these skulls are stolen here, The National.

What is it that makes so many Westerners feel the need to own other people's bones?  Is it merely an idea that they have the forbidden item?  Perhaps it is some feeling of a power over death, or a power over the sacred item of another person's culture.  It could be they actually believe in its magical properties and want to use it in ritual. 

My business has always been about supporting the living treasures of Nepal--the highly skilled craftspeople!  These men and women do still create stunning traditional pieces of jewelry and artwork.  The rewards are not only in the beauty created, but in the jobs created as well.  And I know that if it were my mother's bones decorating some wealthy person's mantel in a foreign country, I would want them back.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Women's Association at Plymouth Church


Unfortunately the Women's Association at Plymouth has had to cancel their luncheon this Wednesday.

We have rescheduled for Wednesday, APRIL 20, at 12:00 pm.  I will be presenting a slide show discussing my travel and work in Nepal to the Women's Association at Plymouth Church.  It will emphasize my efforts to assist education and improve literacy by raising money to build a library in rural Nepal.

If you would like to learn more about the Library project or to make a donation please click here.

Plymouth Church is located at:
2860 Coventry Rd.
Shaker Heights, OH 44120

Please join us if you can.


Jennifer Gerard in a Bicycle Rickshaw at the front gate of the Kathmandu Guest House.

My apologies to my regular blog followers.  I have been extremely busy with back to back shows in Nashville, Chicago, Atlanta, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Cleveland again and Richmond.  My show schedule is here, if you would like to see me in person.  I will get a break from the travel at the end of March.  -Yes, I do drive to all of these places.

In between shows, I have been giving presentations trying to raise money for the library.   Lately, most of the money I have received is from people at the shows who say, "Keep the change."

I have also been attending my children's performances, designing T-Shirts and the show program for my son's play, and at the same time laying out images and text for a children's book that I've been working on.

Today, I am cleaning house because I have invited 4 show vendors to stay with us during the Cleveland show.  I will be making chicken soup and baking the "Best Bread Ever!" tomorrow. Link for the vendors at the Intergalactic Bead Shows.

There hasn't been much time to read or write recently, but hopefully, I will get back into the groove soon.

As my gift to you, I am leaving you with my "Best Bread Ever!" recipe.

1 C. uncooked oatmeal
2 C. boiling water
2 pkgs. yeast dissolved in 1/3 cup water
1 tsp. salt
½ c. honey
2 Tbs. butter
2 ½ C. to 3 C. white flour
1 ½ C. to 2 C. whole wheat flour

Directions: In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast.  In a big bowl, put the oatmeal and add the boiling water from your teakettle, also add salt, honey and butter.  When this mixture has cooled, add the dissolved yeast and the flour.  Knead 7 to 10 minutes.  Let it rise twice, once in the bowl and once in two pans.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 35 to 40 minutes. (If you are in Nepal, I'm afraid you will have to make a few adjustments.) Read more: High Altitude Yeast Baking

Friday, January 28, 2011

Visiting the Rotary Club in Shaker Heights, OH

School children in Nepal's Rasuwa District

Tuesday February 1, 2011 at 7:30 morning I will be attending a meeting and giving a powerpoint presentation to the Rotary Club of Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Thank you Shaker Heights Rotary!
I will hopefully be receiving support and advice about our Library Project in Nepal.

About the Library Project: Shree Nawabijayee Mahendra Secondary School is a recently constructed school in the Rasuwa District of Nepal.  These students are in desperate need of reading materials.  When I visited almost one year ago in March 2010, the school had only the one small bag of books that I brought to them from my blog friends and neighbors. Your contribution is going directly to the building and stocking of a library for this school.  Not only will 320 students be able to use this library, but the library will also be made available to the 1500 inhabitants of the  nearby villages. The Joy Foundation is the non-governmental organization (NGO) in Nepal overseeing this project.

Budget Details in US Dollars:
Cement 30 bags, cost $400
Sand 180 bags, cost $430
Skilled builders, 50 people, cost $290
2 doors and 6 windows, cost $500
Furniture, cost $500
Concrete, cost $40
The community will provide volunteer labor to assist in the construction of this building.
Once the building is complete our goal is purchase 500 books through
Room to Read valued at $500.
We would also like to deliver 2  laptop computers valued at approximately $350 each.
Total Goal - $3360
The Joy Foundation
Total contributions including PayPal are currently $1259.49.  Thank you for your contributions.  We are making progress.

To see who has donated and learn more about this project, click below:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

An Optimistic Future

When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.
 John M. Richardson, Jr.

Learned helplessness is condition in which a person has learned to behave helplessly because of their circumstances and experiences in the past.  Martin Seligman, PhD,  and others have found that even when conditions change for an individual,  they continued to believe that they had no ability to help themselves to a different future. What does this mean when it is applied on a cultural level, especially in places like India and Nepal, where there are lingering caste systems, or in any country of great social disparity?

Recently, I was listening to Anand Giridharadas, who was raised in Cleveland, Ohio, telling about an experience he had while visiting India.  He was at a dinner party with several guests attended to by servants as is the custom in India. Later that evening he needed to deliver a mattress to his host.  When he returned to the house he was wearing shorts and a T-Shirt.  The house servant thought that he was a lower class delivery boy and addressed him as such.  You can hear the pod-cast of his story here.  The servant clearly had an image of his place and the place of others in this world while the American born Anand could slide easily between different stations in life.

Our world is going through an amazing cultural shift right now in part because of our sudden access to global information.   Chavez said, that, “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.

Martin Seligman continued his research and found that just as you can learn helplessness you can also learn optimism. We all can.  We should not allow ourselves to be limited by the expectations of others, nor should we restrict our future to imagined boundaries.  Have courage and dare to dream big!
*For some very special friends.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Changing Perspective

I took my place in the back seat of the rust stained white station wagon next to a nervous and foul smelling sheep dog. I had a suspicion that the brown stuff matted into his fur with burrs and small twigs was not mere dirt.  Fortunately for me, he did not move about the car at all but instead was working intently on removing all of the interior plastic and foam from the door on his side of the car. The middle aged couple in front of the car was friendly even if loudly opinionated about everything and nothing in particular.  Mrs. Pheasant, a gray haired dumpling of a women whose eyes rarely focused on anything but just sort of rolled around lazily, produced a paper bag containing a bottle of gin from the floor of the car.  We were only 20 minutes into our hour and a half trip to the cape and already she was offering a swig to her husband who was driving.  By the time that we reached the ferry in Hyannis both of them were pleasantly inebriated and ready for the jolly ferry ride to Nantucket.

When I was 17 years old and a recent high school graduate from a small farm town in Ohio, my mother dropped me off in Marlboro, Massachusetts, with a friend of her friend who owned a summer home at the far end of Main Street in Nantucket.  The plan was that I would be able to live in a safe environment with cheap rent while I found a summer job so that I could make money for college.  I never told my mother that the sweet couple, the Pheasants, who picked me up had 15 kids jammed into their little house all paying $50 a week in rent.  I shouldn't really say that I stayed in their house, my bed was in a shed similar to one that you might find at the Home Depot that looks like a tiny little barn.  Three girls shared this space.  Two were in bunk beds that fit perfectly to the depth of the shed and my bed completed the L to theirs along the length.  At night, my suitcase would go on the floor and in the morning I would put it back up on the bed so that we could get to the door.

I loved it!  I was independent, surrounded by kids from all over the country.  I worked at least two jobs a day, sometimes more, and often bathed in the ocean in between jobs because there was only one bathroom for everyone.  I rarely saw the landlords,  who had usually passed out cold long before most of us returned from our jobs during the day.  And, I made plenty of money to take to school with me in the fall.

Flash forward 20 years.  I was visiting a young woman whom I had originally met in Nepal.  She was working for a hotel on Cape Cod.  I was appalled to find that she was living in a hotel room with 5 other girls.  Each one of them was paying $100 a week rent to the landlord who was also their employer.   Just about all of the money that they made cleaning the rooms went to rent and food.  After the airfare round trip to the US from Nepal, these young women would have less to take home with them than they had at the start. At first I was furious that they were being exploited this way.  I was sure that it was not legal.  But the young woman asked me please not to say anything to anyone.  This was her chance.  If she could demonstrate that she would play by the US rules, she might have the opportunity to return to a different job in the US someday.  After a few moments reflection, I could understand that what she was doing was really not very different from what I had done at about the same age.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Anonymous from Nepal

Ganesh, the remover of obstacles.
I received this message today January 3, 2011 on a post from May 4th, 2010 The Little Children are Suffering:

I was born and raised in Kathmandu, I never had any chance to travel these corners inside Nepal. It is such a shame how imbalance the whole situation is within a same country regarding education and household. I belonged to a rich family background and I was given good education Now I left my own country and living here in one of the world's most developed country using expensive notbook trying to realize what went wrong? I believe all most everyone who are from kathmnadu as well as other cities from Nepal don't know the situation around such a country side or may be they try to ignore it. Because of the Anxiety of life, no one cares about it. And the politic and all the politicians are not capable of anything beside making money for their own. May be around 20% of population or less pays tax. And all most everyone who were given good education are already out of country as I am. But for me it was not my decision to leave my own country. Anyways I love my country and I love my children too and for there sake I cant go back. But I will do something good to those children out there I promise. May be one of them will realize about it before it's too late. otherwise the story will never end. Thank you. 

There is so much grief and doubt in this message and I really felt compelled to respond.

Looking to the past can help us to understand why something is happening in the present, but I am a firm believer that the future is determined by how we choose to envision it.  If we cling to a vision of the past what do we aim for?  Where is the goal?  We must begin with a vision of the world that we would like to live in, then make our plans and set about creating the vision by changing our own actions.  Nothing happens without effort but it is only our own effort that we have any control over.

Remove the obstacles, the blame and guilt, and believe that you can make a difference.  You can!  You merely have to begin.

THANK YOU! to all of you who have contributed to the Library Project in the Rasuwa District.  Together we are making progress.  To see our progress and see who has contributed, click here.
To make a Pay Pal donations click here.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year! The Ritual

I went looking on the web to see what New Year's traditions I could find and from that I have created my own ritual:

Write on paper the vices that I wish to part with and burn them in a fire.
Write my hopes for the year on another piece of paper and tie it to my wishing tree.
Pass out lots of kisses to friends and family with warm wishes for peace and prosperity.

And Sing a Song!
Auld Lang Syne by Robert Burns
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp,
And surely I'll be mine!
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pu'd the gowans fine;
But we've wandered mony a weary fit
Sin' auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidled i' the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roared
Sin' auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

And there's a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o' thine!
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught
For auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.